'But I was only gone a second': As 'Puffer Enforcement Week' kicks off, how not to be a statistic

A sign during a previous puffer enforcement week.
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - Jonathon was heading to work and was about to pull out of his driveway a couple of years ago when he realized he forgot to feed his dog.

"I decided to run back in real quick and leave the keys in the car and feed the dog, which would only take a minute at most,” he told 11 News.

Monique was heading into work on a frigid morning. She decided to leave her car running while she ran inside to gather her stuff.

"I came out, I started my car because it was sub-zero in the car, and went back in to get some paperwork and grab a few things."

Jonathon and Monique both returned to an empty driveway.

Puffing is one of the easiest ways to become a statistic. All crooks need are your keys and 30 seconds to make your car their car.

Colorado law enforcement in collaboration with Coloradans Against Auto Theft and Colorado Auto Theft Investigators have designated the week of Jan. 26-Feb. 1 "Puffer Awareness and Enforcement Week." It's an attempt to raise awareness for what a CSPD lieutenant once called "a 100 percent preventable crime."

Besides just the hassle of having your vehicle stolen, puffing has led to some unexpected consequences, as these local headlines from the past two years will attest:

Puffing case leads to standoff in Colorado Springs; 2 people in custody: The person who tried to warm up their car on a chilly morning probably never dreamed the vehicle would lead to a police standoff that afternoon.

Family recounts terror after baby is stolen with van: Police say that the father left the little boy in the vehicle with the ignition running while checking on his other children. When he returned, the vehicle -- and the baby -- was gone.

Joyride in stolen vehicle ends in crash; driver on the run: Night after night, a driver in a stolen pickup cruised around Colorado Springs, trying to bait officers into a high-speed chase.

Shot fired during car theft Police tell 11 News the victim was "puffing," a term used for leaving a vehicle running and unoccupied, while grabbing a forgotten wallet from inside their home. They returned to their BMW to find a stranger sitting in it.

“It leads to a lot of other problems if somebody does get in your vehicle and drive off,” CSPD Officer MJ Thompson told 11 News in October. “People don’t realize it can turn into more than a motor vehicle theft. It can turn into a vehicle used in a pursuit with us, could be used in an armed robbery, could lead to identity theft, a plethora of things.”

In addition to all of the above, puffing victims may also find themselves out $60, which is the amount of the fine for a first offense. Puffing is against the law in Colorado, and during "Puffer Week," law enforcement will be increasing warnings and citations to those discovered running their vehicles unattended. The only time Colorado drivers are legally allowed to leave their cars running unattended is if they have remote start, because the vehicle can be left running while the doors remain locked.

Thompson said many crooks are actively searching the city for vehicles left running on cold mornings.

"We actually have shown in the past there are groups that go out in the mornings, cold mornings, and they look for people puffing their vehicle," he told 11 News.

Law enforcement suggests following these tips to prevent yourself from becoming the victim of car thieves:

- Never leave your car running unattended
- Never leave valuables, keys, guns, money, ID's or garage door openers in your car
- Park in an enclosed garage whenever possible
- Always lock your car doors
- Always park in well-lit areas
- Invest in anti-theft technologies

Additionally, this map can show you if other recent car thefts have occurred in your area.